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Fantasy Islands : It's Hard to Find an Escape More Remote Than Any of These South Pacific Outposts. With the Current Transpacific Air-Fare Bargains, There's No Better Time to Go. : Tavarua: Surfers' Paradise

March 01, 1992|HILLARY HAUSER | Hauser is a free-lance writer based in Summerland, Calif. and

TAVARUA, Fiji — It is early morning on this island and the gentle trade winds are blowing a humid breeze into the restaurant. I'm sitting at a table by myself, scribbling into my notebook half a dozen scenes that I want to paint when I get home. The sea water on my arms has dried into streaks of salt, but my fingers are still pickled from being in the water so long.

For two hours I've been snorkeling off the beach where the surf boats are anchored, in an area I call the Flower Gardens. In my notebook I've sketched some scenes I want to remember: the big brown unicornfish with the pokey thing sticking out of its forehead, the swarms of iridescent blue chromis (damselfishes) that hover over golden-ocher staghorn corals, and the funny little Picasso triggerfishes that hide in the shallow holes along the bottom. Also, I want to remember the plain gray, perch-like fishes with vividly striped tails that swim on the white-sand bottom near the shore.

I hear the faint sound of a motorboat. The surfers who have made the early morning run to Cloudbreak are back for breakfast. My husband, Jim, comes off the boat to report that the waves out there are "awesome." He says I need to bring my camera and go out with him on the afternoon boat. The surfers line up for buffet breakfast, and soon all the tables in the restaurant are filled. There's a lot of happy talk in the air.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday March 8, 1992 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 2 Column 1 Travel Desk 1 inches; 19 words Type of Material: Correction
Island picture--The aerial photo of Tavarua on page 1 of last Sunday's Travel section was taken by Mark Rennecker, not Hillary Hauser.

"Cloudbreak" means only one thing to most surfers: It's an enormous left-breaking wave that comes up onto a reef off Tavarua Island, outside of Nadi Bay. It's like K2 to mountain climbers, Zermatt to skiers--the ultimate of ultimates, King of the Lefts. "Goofy-footers," surfers who ride with their right foot forward, favor lefts because they can face the waves. "Regulars" (left foot forward) favor right-breaking waves for the same reason. Jim is a regular, but he loves Cloudbreak, as does every other surfer on the planet.

I'll never forget my first view of the island, when Jim and I went there several years ago. It is a heart-shaped, palm-studded jewel set in the midst of an aquamarine sea. The bures are strung along a sandy palm-tree path bordering the beach, and there are two treehouses where surfers can view the offshore breaks through binoculars.

The main paths of the island, which intersect in a big "X" somewhere near the middle, lead at one end to the Fijian village where about 25 island workers and their families live. At the other end, through a miniature Fijian jungle, is David and Jeannie's idyllic two-bedroom-plus-veranda treehouse. I have loved sleeping on the veranda, which overlooks a white sandy beach that invites you to roll into the ocean first thing in the morning when no one else is up.

On Tavarua, there are 12 Fijian bures , wonderful Fijian-style thatched huts near the beach, which rent for $125 a night per person for surfers and $70 a night for spouses or non-surfing mates. This price includes all your meals and everything else you do on the island--windsurfing, snorkeling, fishing, beachcombing, daydreaming. One of my favorite things to do on Tavarua is to walk around the island on the beautiful coral-sand beach, which you can do in about half an hour if you're in a hurry, collecting the beautiful shells that wash up each day. I have spent hours with the Fijian children of the Tavarua village, stringing these shells on monofilament line, and Jim and I have dishes of Tavarua shells all around our house in California.

The emphasis on Tavarua is, of course, on surfing--uncrowded surfing. David Clark, a Californian who owns the resort with Scott Funk, went to the South Pacific in the first place to escape the crowds of Southern California surf spots. Clark and Funk try to keep the numbers to 20 surfers at a time at Cloudbreak. This means that everyone gets plenty of his own solitary supreme moments on these waves.

You can see evidence of this intense activity within two weeks on the island: out come the Band-Aids, patches, Tiger Balm and Neosporin. Lorima, the Fijian bartender, becomes a masseuse and gives out dozens of back rubs ($2 each) to sore surfers who have stretched themselves to the limit in waves and wipeouts.

David and his wife, Jeannie, are themselves talented surfers. You'll see David out at Cloudbreak on the biggest swells, and Jeannie's abilities shine when the wind blows. She is one of the most graceful boardsailers this side of the moon.

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